Arnold McCuller - Back To The Front 


Anyone who has enjoyed the track ”You Can’t Go Back” by Arnold McCuller will understand why I was very glad when this, his fourth solo album, dropped in my mailbox. 

Arnold McCuller has sung backing for some major talents over a career spanning some thirty years – they include Phil Collins, Bonnie Raitt, Marc Cohn, Lyle Lovett and James Taylor (with whom his association goes back a long, long time). 

Songs written by all of the above appear on “Back To Front” and as he steps into centre stage – from the back to the front – he is providing a great tribute to them.  He has made the songs his own and introduced them to a new audience. 

Bonnie Raitt’s Nick Of Time opens the 11-song set.  McCuller’s mellow, effortless vocal floats over a lovely mid-tempo groove with nice, choppy rhythm guitar.  Backing vocals are strong – here’s a guy who knows how it should be done!  There’s an Isley Brothers type of feeling in this thought-provoking song. 

Gospel fans, get ready for Baby King which has a real old-fashioned R ‘n’ B vibe.  There’s a sparse drum and organ backing and intense gospel-style vocals. 

On First Of May, we get an up-to-the-minute vocal arrangement and the song blossoms into a light-hearted, latin-tinged outing with sweet female backing and just the right amount of percussion.  There’s a hint of Joe Zawinul in the keyboards and the carnival feeling is nicely offbeat. 

Arnold McCuller proves he can write as well as he sings on Hot and Sultry Afternoon.  This is an old-fashioned soul ballad (believe me, I mean that as a compliment) with a classy piano and string backing.  As with all of the songs here, the vocal is the star attraction and sounds very “live” – when he sings “my heart is filling up the room..”, you know where he’s coming from.  Yes, this is a spine-tingler! 

Hats off to Genesis – Hold On My Heart is a slow track which balances piano and synthesizer beautifully over a mechanical but very tasteful rhythm track.  Once again, lead and backing vocals blend beautifully. 

There is a moody intro to Oughta Know By Now and the prominent bass riff underpins the heavily echoed vocal right through the song.  There are some sweet rhythm and solo guitar licks in here but that vocal shines out. 

Paper Walls is a Marc Cohn-penned tune which is given a very moody, soulful treatment and builds in intensity like one of bluesman Robert Cray’s songs.  Corky James, you are one versatile guitar player! 

The hazy organ sound feature on “Paper Walls” is more to the fore on Look Up From Your Life.  The live drums and bass sound old fashioned (I keep using that description) and refreshing and are just right as the backdrop to Arnold McCuller’s classic soul vocal. 

Here it is – I love Donald Fagen’s music and his song Lazy Nina sounds fabulous here!  At it’s best, Fagen’s music makes you smile – match offbeat lyrics with that lush but light funk backing and how can you fail?  I think this is my favourite cut – Mr McCuller sounds like he’s having a ball! 

I Can’t Make You Love Me is now in the “all-time classic” category and this treatment shows why.  Brad Cole’s seductive piano makes all the right noises and that sexy rhythm track and vocal take me right back to the Isley’s masterpiece “Smooth Sailin’ Tonight”. 

The closing song Closing Time, a Lyle Lovett song, is a gentle reminder of how Arnold McCuller’s vocal and production talents can mould a variety of material into a style that is all his own.  I loved the synthesized “trumpet” solo on this song – if you’re looking for good taste, you can stop looking! 

I know I have kept referring to arrangements and songs on this CD as old-fashioned.  I became aware of great soul music in about 1973 – it’s wonderful to hear guys out there who can still deliver.

What’s Good Records WGR 85002 – Executive Producer Arnold McCuller

Reviewed by Chris Mann